I read and wrote a lot this year. I know this absolutely wasn’t the same for everyone but for me a need to escape mixed with all distractions being removed (I’m a shielder so I wasn’t even tempted out for dinner in the summer) culminated in a lot of words. I talked about my writing last week so this week I wanted to talk about all the amazing books I read.
I reread a lot – Rebecca, Middlemarch, The Woman in White, A Fatal Inversion, Love Story, Atonement, a lot of Kate Morton – I liked the security of already knowing I loved the book even if I couldn’t always remember much about it. I also spent a lot of time clearing out my TBR pile of books that I wanted to read but had felt too long or not right before. I ended up having one of my best reading years ever and here is my top ten – not all of these books came out this year but I did decide not to include anything I’d read before.
- The Glass House by Eve Chase – This was my absolute favourite book that was published this year. It is a gloriously layered story about motherhood and nature and the importance of working out where we came from. It’s set partly in the 1970s and partly in the present day and is full of explosive secrets and Gothic romance. I read it in May and still think about the characters all the time.
- The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – This has been on my TBR since it won the Booker in 2013. I don’t really know why it took me so long to get around to it really because I think it might be one of the best books I’ve ever read. Set on the goldfields of 19th century New Zealand, it is part mystery, part epic saga and part ghost story. Once I started I couldn’t stop and read all 800+ pages in a week.
- Under a Golden Sun by Jenny Ashcroft – A new Jenny Ashcroft book is always my highlight of the year. She writes the most sublime historical fiction that is a little bit different from the norm. This time we are in the middle of the Second World War in London, on a ship to Australia and at a cattle ranch in Queensland. An evocative examination of love and home and race and I swallowed up every word.
- 4, 3, 2, 1 by Paul Auster – This is another one that’s been on my TBR for a few years and again I was probably put off by the sheer length of it. I adore Paul Auster but this was an epic piece of postmodernist fiction. It is essentially the coming of age story of Archie Ferguson, a Jewish boy born in March 1947 – except that Archie’s life takes on “four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives.” It is exquisite and I’m still not sure I’ve got over it. I half read and half listened to this one because Auster narrates it and, honestly, I’d listen to him reading out the telephone directory.
- Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn – I read this in January, before the world went completely to hell. On the surface it’s a romance set in New York, but it’s so, so much more than that – it’s a modern love story, a treatise on creativity, a homage to the written word and a cautionary tale about modern work practices! It’s the most perfect romance. I was really struggling with my own writing when I read this and it was the kick up the bum I needed.
- The Heatwave by Kate Riordan – Set in the South of France in the 1990s and the present day, the Heatwave is a scorching tale of family, psychopathy and long-buried secrets. And as the Provencal weather hots up, so does the tension. I love Kate’s writing and this was dark and twisty and glorious.
- The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland – Another book that’s been on my TBR for a while, this is set in the red centre of Australia and is the story of breaking out of cycles of family abuse, finding yourself and learning from nature. Partly told through the language of native Australian flowers it is an enchanting, if sometimes difficult read. A story about stories and the healing power they have, especially our own.
- The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester – The discovery of a wardrobe full of Dior gowns in her grandmother’s abandoned Cornish cottage makes Kat Jourdan doubt everything she previously knew about herself and her beloved grandmother. This is a heart-breaking story set during the Second World War, the late 1940s and the present day and we follow Kat as she discovers the truth about her family and begins to find her place in the world. I love Natasha’s writing and while ‘Her Mother’s Secret’ will always be my favourite, ‘The Paris Secret’ is one of the most carefully and cleverly plotted historical romances I’ve ever read.
- The Woman in the Painting by Kerry Postle – This is the story of Margarita Luti, a baker’s daughter in 15th century Rome and Raphael’s muse. Told from the perspective of one of Raphael’s apprentices, Kerry conjures up Renaissance Italy so perfectly that you feel you are there as the story unravels to reveal the devastating consequences of an artist falling in love with his model.
- The Storm by Amanda Jennings – Like The Heatwave this is set partly in the 1990s and partly in the present day but this time among the fishing boats of the Cornish coast. It bravely explores coercive control in a marriage and the dark, malevolent events that led Nathan to control everything Hannah did. I loved the twisty tale but I also loved the nostalgia of 1990s pubs and fashion in provincial Britain which was gloriously written.
What were your favourite books of 2020? Did you read a lot or find it hard to read with everything that’s been going on?